I was in Greenwich Village yesterday morning—at brunch time as a matter of fact. In contrast with most of the month's temperatures, it was pleasantly warm—near sixty degrees—and the local hipsters were milling about in great numbers. Many of these men and women patiently waited their turns to dine in over-crowded and over-priced holes in the wall. From my perspective at least, all that waiting around spoils the dining experience. What the waiting inevitably portends is rarely pretty—dining in a sardine can with fellow sardines.
In my travels, I walked through Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, still home to an ever-decreasing number of meatpacking enterprises. Mostly, the area has morphed into a gentrified playground offering luxurious places to live—in converted slaughterhouses in many instances—and a bevy of posh restaurants and boutiques. I recall my father’s stories of watching hundreds upon hundreds of railroad freight cars carrying livestock along the Hudson River to the Meatpacking District. That’s one visual I’m happy I never witnessed. So, I can’t really say I miss the old Meatpacking District.
It’s just that New York City is fast becoming devoid of diversity and charm. And I’m not speaking of diverse peoples, but of diverse character and entrepreneurship. For example, I stumbled upon this chic, peculiarly named business called Acne Studio. I thought at first it might be the office of some dermatologist—a Dr. Zizmor epigone. After all, a dictionary definition of acne is: “The occurrence of inflamed or infected sebaceous glands in the skin; in particular, a condition characterized by red pimples on the face, prevalent chiefly among teenagers.” But no, Acne Studio wasn’t peddling $5.00 jars of Oxy face cleansing pads, but fashion instead like derby shoes with painted cap toes for $800 and $50/pair boxer briefs.
Often in my Bronx to Manhattan adventures, I exit the train at the corner of 12th Street and Seventh Avenue. For many years, a neat row of mom-and-pop retailers greeted me on the northeast corner, including an independently owned pharmacy with a modest mortar and pestle neon sign. That same strip is now a Duane Reade chain drug store and a Subway sandwich franchise. This is the law of the jungle now.
Happily, small barbershops and locksmiths—to name a couple—are weathering the changes. Not too far from Acne Studio were two barbershops that I noticed. One was called Fellow Barbershop; the other took a page out of Shakespeare’s book and posed the immortal question: What’s in a name? The owners decided not to call it Best Barbershop or some such thing, but merely Barbershop. A barbershop by any other name would smell as sweet—or like Barbicide.
The great equalizer in this New York experience is a subway ride. It’s still a bargain and transports patrons of Acne Studio and Target alike. No special privileges here when—after pointing at the hanging zebra boards—subway conductors open their doors. It is then that we know for certain that while the stars may not be properly aligned, the subway cars most assuredly are.
(Photos two and three from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)